A bill that would return the 8,400-year-old skeleton of Kennewick Man to Columbia Basin tribes is expected to be considered by a Senate committee Thursday.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced legislation in August and is moving it forward now by including it in the larger Water Resources Development Act.
“This is about doing right by the descendants of the Ancient One, and I will keep fighting to move this bill forward and bring these remains home,” Murray said in a statement Tuesday.
College students stumbled upon the bones two decades ago during Water Follies on Army Corps of Engineers property along the Columbia River in Kennewick. The skeleton is one of the oldest and most complete ones found in North America.
After a years-long court battle, scientists were allowed to study the skeleton. They successfully argued that the bones might not be Native American, convincing a judge to give them access to the bones rather than turn them over to Northwest tribes as the Corps proposed.
We need to put him back so he can rest.
Rex Buck, Wanapum band
Ironically, it took science to prove what native people had known from teachings passed down through time immemorial about their ancestors, said JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, in August, after meeting with Murray in the Tri-Cities about her legislation.
In June, new genetic evidence from the scientific study of Kennewick Man’s bones was released that showed the remains were more similar to modern Native Americans than any other living group.
The DNA had been compared to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville reservation, which are closely associated with other Northwest tribes and bands, including the Yakamas, the Umatillas, the Wanapums and the Nez Perce.
Rex Buck of the Wanapum Band, which lives upriver from where Kennewick Man was found, said the Wanapum elders had no doubts that the bones of the person they call the “Ancient One” was an ancestor.
“We need to put him back so he can rest,” Buck said in August.
This is a big step forward and great news for Columbia Basin tribes who have been fighting to bring the Ancient One home to his rightful place.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., also have called for Kennewick Man to be returned to a coalition of area tribes.
Murray’s legislation would transfer Kennewick Man to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation which has regulations in place to carry out repatriation of remain to tribes.
The bones are under the control of the Army Corps of Engineers and are stored at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The planned hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works “is a big step forward and great news for Columbia Basin tribes who have been fighting to bring the Ancient One home to his rightful place,” Murray said.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both D-Ore., and Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho.